Ten tips for safe firearm handling while hunting

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With many hunters heading outdoors with firearms, it is a good time to think about gun safety.

In each of the past few years, about 450,000 people hunted in Idaho and more than 100,000 in Washington. Even with that many people in the field, there are typically very few, if any, hunting accidents involving firearms.

“Although there are very few firearm-related hunting accidents, especially relative to the number of hunters we have every year in Idaho, one of the most common causes of the accidents we have is a firearm being loaded when it shouldn’t be — such as putting it into or removing it from a vehicle — or while navigating through rough terrain,” said Brenda Beckley, hunter and angler recruitment manager at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in a news release. “These types of accidents are easy to avoid if you adhere to basic firearm safety principles.”

In the hopes of avoiding any firearm accidents this fall, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game offers these gun safety tips:

• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. When another person hands you a firearm, assume it is loaded even if you are told it is not. Ask anyone handing you a firearm to open the action before they hand it to you.

• Always control the muzzle of your firearm. As long as the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction, nobody is likely to get hurt even if the firearm discharges unexpectedly. A safety is a mechanical device which can fail, so there is no instance where you can disregard where the muzzle is pointing simply because the safety is on.

• Never touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Keep your fingers away from the trigger while loading or unloading. Never pull the trigger on any firearm with the safety on or anywhere in between “safe” and “fire.”

• Never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot. Carry and use binoculars to check out the hillside. Never look through your scope at something you cannot identify.

• Be certain of your target and what is beyond it. A safe hunter makes certain that movement or sound is a game animal that is in season before pointing a muzzle. Prior to taking a shot, a hunter must check the background for other people, livestock, buildings, equipment or roads to make sure there is a safe backstop.

• Mistaking a person for game is one of the most common causes of hunting accidents, which can be serious or fatal. One way to make sure every other person in the field can clearly identify you is by wearing hunter orange. Washington state rules require hunters to wear a minimum of 400 square inches of fluorescent hunter orange and/or fluorescent hunter pink exterior clothing, worn above the waist and visible from all sides. A hat by itself does not meet this requirement.

• Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting. Make a habit to check your barrel often. Even a small obstruction in the bore can cause the barrel to bulge or worse — explode.

• The same can happen by placing a smaller gauge or caliber cartridge into a gun, such as a 20-gauge shell in a 12-gauge shotgun. This can result in the smaller cartridge acting as an obstruction when a cartridge of proper size is fired. Always pay close attention to each cartridge you insert into your firearm and only carry the correct ammunition for the gun you’re carrying.

• Never cross a fence, climb a tree or do anything potentially hazardous with a loaded gun.

• Store firearms and ammunition separately. While most gun owners consider this most of the year, many leave guns and ammunition in their vehicles during the hunting season. Firearms should be unloaded for safety when in the vehicle. Ammunition should always remain inaccessible to children.

• Alcohol and guns don’t mix. If there is alcohol in your hunting camp, make certain all firearms are put away before the alcohol comes out.

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